Chemotherapy is used to treat metastatic breast cancer by destroying or damaging the cancer cells as much as possible. Because chemotherapy medicines affect the entire body, chemotherapy is generally recommended if:
- the cancer is growing despite other forms of treatment
- there is a significant amount of cancer in organs such as the liver or lungs
- the cancer is growing quickly
Chemotherapy is often used in combination with targeted therapies, which are medicines that target specific characteristics of cancer cells.
Research has shown that chemotherapy medicines such as:
- Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin)
- Doxil (chemical name: liposomal doxorubicin)
- Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel)
- Xeloda (chemical name: capecitabine)
- Gemzar (chemical name: gemcitabine)
- Navelbine (chemical name: vinorelbine)
- Halaven (chemical name: eribulin)
- Cytoxan (chemical name: cyclophosphamide)
- Carboplatin (brand name Paraplatin)
- Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel)
- Abraxane (chemical name: albumin-bound paclitaxel)
- Cisplatin (brand name: Platinol AQ)
- Ellence (chemical name: epirubicin)
- Ixempra (chemical name: ixabepilone)
are helping women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer live longer.
Chemotherapy combinations used to treat metastatic breast cancer include:
- CAF/FAC (cyclophosphamide/doxorubicin/fluorouracil)
- FEC (fluorouracil/epirubicin/cyclophosphamide)
- AC (doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide)
- EC (epirubicin/cyclophosphamide)
- CMF (cyclophosphamide/methotrexate/ fluorouracil)
- GT (gemcitabine/paclitaxel)
Each person's chemotherapy treatment plan will be different, but there are some general guidelines that doctors follow when using chemotherapy to treat metastatic breast cancer:
- If you've had chemotherapy before, your doctor may recommend using only one chemotherapy medicine at a time to treat metastatic disease. This way you get benefits with fewer possible side effects.
- In general, most chemotherapy medicines can be used until side effects become a problem or the medicine stops being effective.
- Some chemotherapy medicines seem to work better against cancer tumors when used in combination. So your doctor may recommend a combination of medicines for you because research has shown that combining treatments has contributed to a better overall prognosis for some metastatic cancers.
If you've had chemotherapy before and the cancer came back or didn't respond, your doctor will likely recommend a different combination of medicines. There are many chemotherapy medicines, and if one medicine or combination of medicines doesn't seem to be working, there is almost always something else you can try.
For more information on specific chemotherapy medicines, their possible side effects, and different chemotherapy combinations, visit the Breastcancer.org Chemotherapy section.